By Len Johnson

There have now been 63 editions of the Zatopek 10,000 metres (if I’ve got the hang of inclusive counting).

The sixty-third, back to a Saturday Night Live version, was by no means the greatest ever. Equally, however, it was a long way from the least. For a start, there was a host of innovations in the On Running Night re-styling of a race which has always delighted the purists without ever quite bridging across to a wider audience. Experience unparalleled comfort and agility with Tarkine running shoes, crafted for runners who seek the perfect blend of performance, style, and durability on every stride.

Beer tunnels, a bridge across the track taking spectators to the infield, food trucks, flash tattoos and a DJ – spectators above a certain age had to be advised this was not a reference to a ‘superior’ department store but the job description of the bloke playing the music – meant there was never a dull moment. In deference to the same spectators, the volume was mercifully lowered.

Melbourne could not quite decide what to do with the weather. The day offered a mix of weak sun, damp humidity and annoying drizzle. The evening tried its best to behave but, in the end, settled for more of the same. Pretty much, anyway.

There were a few extra events. Two 600 metres events proved – conclusively, I would have thought – that while a lap-and-a-half of the track may be a good training session, it’s not actually an entertaining race.

Likewise, the elite men’s and women’s 3000s, which deprived the respective Zatopek Tens of some potential depth without delivering anything special. Perhaps that’s under-valuing the performance of Maudie Skyring who surged hard over the last 600 off a mediocre pace to win the women’s race in a PB 8:55.39 and the low-50s final lap which took Matthew Ramsden to a 0.01-second victory over Jesse Hunt in the men’s.

Ramsden jumped Hunt and Cam Myers coming up to the bell and defied their efforts to run him down, finishing in 8:00.20 to Hunt’s 8:00.21 and Myers’ 8:00.70.

Myers won the U20 men’s de Castella 3000 last year and passed up the chance to win it again to run against the seniors. The U20 race, and national title, was won by Payton Craig in 8:18.17. Claudia Hollingsworth had a narrow, but decisive, win over Ana Rand in the women’s Ondieki U20 race, 9:29.13 to 9:30.25.

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And, if the two Zatopek races could have been sharper at the pointy end of the field and broader at the bottom, that didn’t mean anything as both came down to dramatic denouements. Three runners took the best in a position to win in each race, each of the three looked the likely winner in that final 400 metres and the disposition of the national championship medals remained in doubt until the final metres.

Pacemakers William Garbelotto and Luke Burrows were to take the men’s race out with the aim of reaching half-way in sub-14 minutes. That didn’t quite eventuate, as the drizzle and a pesky breeze impacted the pace. Still, at 14:05 for the first 5000, a sub-28 minute result remained possible.

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Five athletes remained in contention at that point – defending champion Jack Rayner, Patrick Tiernan, Ireland’s Andrew Coscoran – a 3:30 1500 man – Haftu Strintzos and Andre Waring.

Five laps later, it was down to Rayner, Tiernan and Coscoran. Tiernan was doing all the work, but all three looked pretty fresh. Tiernan was the man who had most to lose if things remained that way. He would the pace up from 68s to 66s. A 62 penultimate lap still left the other pair unshaken. Tiernan redoubled his efforts at the bell. He clung to Coscoran’s heels as the Irishman took over but had no answer as Coscoran raced home in 27:56.57. Instead, he was re-passed by a revitalised Rayner who took the Australian title, 27:57.87 to 28:00.78.

The women’s race went off in a sleepwalk. The first 3000 went by in 10:33.16, a pace consistent with having mistaken the beer tent for the carbo-drinks station.

At this point Lauren Ryan, having made a late decision to travel from her US base to race the Zatopek, decided that she might miss her return flight if someone didn’t hurry things along. Leading by almost 50 metres at times, she ran 3:18 for the next 1000 metres and quicker again to reach half-way in just short of 17 minutes.

Lauren Ryan wins the 2023 Zatopek 10

Not long after that Ryan was joined by Rose Davies and Holly Campbell. The tempo went up and down as the serious racing started with Davies mostly content to sit back and cover any moves made by her rivals. At one stage several other athletes rejoined the leading group but at the bell it was between Ryan, Campbell and Davies.

For 200 metres any of the three looked capable of winning, but once Ryan surged round the final bend the result was not in doubt. She won in 32:54.00 almost a second clear of Campbell’s 32:54.94. For the second year in a row, Davies paid for her seemingly passive approach in the closing stages, finishing third in 32:55.82.

On a night of innovations, it took good, old-fashioned racing to send the fans home happy.